Is India’s largest private company turning into a venture capitalist? Some recent developments and reports emerging from Reliance Jio seem to suggest so. It has been reported that the petroleum-to-retail giant is scouting for startups in the areas of content, healthcare, education technology, financial technology and transportation segments.
Reliance Jio will make the acquisitions and bring them all under its umbrella while the investments will be made through the parent company RIL.
Reliance has recently picked up a majority stake in music streaming app Saavn, integrating it with the huge mobile phone subscriber muscle that Jio already enjoys. These acquisitions are being spearheaded by Akash Ambani, the elder son of Chairman Mukesh Ambani.
Observers point out that it is not as if the group is splurging cash in taking over these ventures. In the case of Saavn, the valuation at which Reliance Jio bought the venture was much below the figure it had been valued when Saavn had raised its funds before the takeover.
But the more interesting point being made by some experts is that the ones to feel happy with this information that Reliance is looking out for investments will be the investors in the Indian startups in the sectors indicated above. The secondary level investments in the Indian ventures have not been many and only a few, like Alibaba and SoftBank are in play. With the Indian behemoth showing interest, many such stakeholders may start nursing hopes that they can make decent exits from the ventures they are invested in.
Reliance Jio is also showing a lot of interest in working on the artificial intelligence space and if there are startups engaged in developing technologies associated with building products using AI, machine learning etc., the dedicated team at Jio under Akash Ambani will be interested in taking a look.
All these are to be seen from the perspective of the company to emerge as the first go-to player in the digital media services business, starting from data to music and all other conceivable technologies. Akash plays a hands-on role in all these investment decisions, including taking part personally in the talks/negotiations.
As mentioned, Reliance will try and keep Jio’s balance sheet free of major debts and make the investments directly.